PITTSBURG, Kan. — Imagine if the Temptations never came to prominence during the late 1960s. What if, instead, the soul and R&B ensemble caught fire in 2021?
That is the concept behind a Motown-singing ensemble from the Big Apple called Uptown — the reincarnation of the Temptations but with vocals akin to Marvin Gaye and the contemporary feel of Bruno Mars.
The idea for the band came to Broadway performer Joel Walker when he was walking by Harlem’s Apollo Theater on West 125th Street in 2017.
“I saw there were a whole bunch of these legends that had all of these bricks across the floor, right there in front of the theater — people like Stevie Wonder,” Walker said in a recent phone interview. With funk and soul music of the past buzzing in his head, “I wanted to create a contemporary show … using African American artists, featuring New York City ... and it would be our take on what was basically our grandparents’ music.”
In other words, Walker wanted to take the music from the 1960s and bring it forward a few decades so his millennial peers could enjoy the sound, the beat and the funk of it all.
“We definitely put our own spin on it; it has a very contemporary feel to it,” Walker said.
But not too much, he said. Members of the group have taken great pains to ensure the sound is still traditional enough for baby boomers to appreciate.
“The way I try to explain it is this — (our music) is as if you were seeing the Temptations right now, as if they’d grown up as millennials,” he said.
Honing their performances via cruise ships, the theater circuit and worldwide audience via “The X Factor” and NBC’s “The Winner Is,” they recently launched a special Midwest tour that includes a performance Saturday, Sept. 18, at the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts on the Pittsburg State University campus.
“I’ve never been to Kansas,” said Walker, who grew up in Harlem. However, he’s excited to bring some of that “big city urban” to the more rural parts of the country, like Southeast Kansas. “I feel like going to the Midwest — where there’s not as many people doing music like this — it’s really going to let people experience something new.”
The performance is set for 7 p.m.
“What gives Uptown its edge is how unique their perspective is on the classics,” Bicknell Center director Joe Firman said in a release. “Their signature style can be seen in their choreography, arrangement and contemporary attack of their content — all curated by Uptown.”
Tickets for the concert, which is appropriate for all ages, are now on sale for $25 each through the PSU ticket office, Garfield Weede Building, Room 137; by calling 620-235-4796; or by going online at https://bit.ly/384hDIg.
Walker said he hopes that at the conclusion of the show, audience members “will go home feeling like they want to dance and that they want to listen to that style of music. But what I really want people to feel is like they’ve felt something different, something they’ve never felt before, yet feels like they’ve listened to it all of their lives.
“If we can do that and if we can touch your heart just a little, then we’ll be happy for sure.”